Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tson

Published by Beach Lane Books

Image result for trees verlie

Image result for trees verlie jing

Summary:  Fourteen different trees are profiled, each one getting a brief free-verse poem and a two-page illustration.  Some of the taller trees’ pages require turning the book 45 degrees, as the tree stretches from roots on the left-hand side to the treetop on the right.  The trees are personified, often being assigned a gender, and sometimes compared to a human (a sycamore is a “fashion queen” and the white pine, an “unruly uncle”).  Other trees include maple, aspen, oak, palm, pussy willow, apple, redbud, dogwood, spruce, willow, birch, and sequoia. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Just enough information is given in the brief poems and illustrations to help kids start to identify some of the trees in their neighborhoods.  The short, easy-to-understand verses and familiar subject matter would make this a good introduction to poetry.

Cons:  There were no additional resources to help readers learn more about trees.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Sweet Dreamers by Isabelle Simler

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

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Image result for sweet dreamers simler

Summary:  Twenty eight poems tell how different animals sleep: “Toes clinging to the ceiling/kite-fingers folded like a blanket/the bat dreams upside down/As the day shines, she slips into darkness.”  Each spread has a picture of the animal from a short distance on the page with the poem, and a close-up of the animal on the facing page. There are a few wordless spreads of nighttime landscapes interspersed among the poems.  The last poem is for the reader (or listener): “She clambers onto the whale/straddles the seahorse/clings to the elephant/swoops with the swallow./All night long, cuddling her koala/The child dreams beneath the moon.” 80 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Nothing was lost in the translation of this book from the original French to English.  The poems are brief but expressive, and convey at least a fact or two about each animal.  The big and beautiful illustrations are digitally created, which is hard to believe. They look like scratchboard, with bright bits of color on dark backgrounds, perfect for the subject matter.

Cons:  Some additional information on the animals at the end would have added to the educational value.

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Clackety Track: Poems About Trains by Skila Brown, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for clackety track poems amazon

Summary:  Thirteen poems take the reader from “Morning in the Yard” to “Sleeper Train”.  The poems take different forms, including a few concrete ones like “Tracks” in the shape of railroad tracks, and “Shoulder Ballast Cleaner” with the words interwoven in the illustration.  Each poem gets its own two-page spread, complete with a vivid, colorful illustration. Includes a dozen facts about trains, shown on railroad cars on the final two pages. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The simple poems and bright, colorful illustrations make this an excellent introduction to poetry for primary grades; the subject is sure to be popular as well.

Cons:  I liked how Skila Brown included shark facts on every page of her book of shark poems, Slickety Quick, and wish she had done that with facts about the different trains here.

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The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for proper way to meet a hedgehog richard jones

Summary:  Thirty three poems that explain how to do something are collected here.  Starting with “How to Build a Poem” by Charles Ghigna, they cover such diverse topics as “Mix a Pancake” (Christina Rossetti), “How to Tell Goblins from Elves” (Monica Shannon), and “How to be a Tree in Winter” (Irene Latham).  “A Lesson from the Deaf” (Nikki Grimes) beautifully and concisely describes how to sign “Thank you”, with “How to Read Braille (Steven Withrow) appearing on the facing page. Other poets include Marilyn Singer, Kwame Alexander, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many more.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The concrete nature of these poems will broaden their appeal to younger readers, while older kids might be inspired to try writing some of their own.  The somewhat abstract illustrations add nice subtle touches to the poetry.

Cons:  I learned in the process of writing this review that Paul Janeczko passed away on February 19.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Published by Versify

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Image result for undefeated kadir nelson

Summary:  “This is for the unforgettable/The swift and sweet ones/who hurdled history/and opened a world of possibility.”  Kwame Alexander’s poem is an ode to African Americans, both the famous and the unknown ones who played important roles in America’s history.  Kadir Nelson’s oil paintings on white backgrounds portray the subjects; a list at the end identifies them and gives more information about each one. Alexander has also written an afterword to tell how he came to write this poem in 2008, the year his second daughter was born and Barack Obama became president.  He concludes in the final line of the poem, “This is for the undefeated./This is for you./And you./And you./This is for us.” 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The poem is extremely moving, as well as being an excellent introduction to a chunk of African-American history.  I hope Kadir Nelson’s amazing paintings will be recognized with some kind of an award.

Cons:  In the group pictures, each person is identified, but it’s just a list, so it’s difficult to tell who is who in the painting.

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Poetree by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

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Image result for poetree maydani

Summary:  When Sylvia celebrates spring by writing a poem, she decides to share it with a birch tree in the park, tying it around the trunk.  The next day, there’s a new poem tied to the tree, and Sylvia can’t believe it–the tree has written back! She thinks about the tree during school, which helps distract her from Walt, the most annoying boy in her class.  The class studies haiku, and Sylvia shares her creation with the tree on the way home. Once again, her efforts are reciprocated the next day. A few days later, on a visit to the tree, who should appear but Walt, who actually starts acting nice.  It turns out it is Walt, not the tree, who is writing the poems. He writes one on the spot to commemorate the beginning of their friendship: “If you want to share a poem with me/Give it to the tall birch tree/Or if you need a friend for writing/Playing with, or sit beside-ing/I’ll be here for you joyfully/Right beneath the Poetree.”  32 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  This lovely story of a new friendship would also make a perfect introduction to a poetry unit.

Cons:  Walt seems like a good guy…so why is he so mean at school?

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